Ask Hackaday: What’s Linux Anyway?

Ask Hackaday: What’s Linux Anyway?

Any time we mention Linux, it is a fair bet we will get a few comments from people unhappy that we didn’t refer to it as GNU/Linux or with some other appellation. To be fair, they aren’t wrong. Linux is a kernel. Much of what we think of as a Linux desktop OS is really from other sources, including, but not limited to, GNU. We thought about this after reading a report from [The Register] that Linux has nearly half of the desktop OS Linux market. Wait, what?

If you are like us, you probably think that’s a typo. It isn’t. But the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. You know that half of the world’s desktops don’t run Linux. But maybe they mean Unix? Nope. So how can Linux have almost half of the Linux market? That’s like saying nearly half of Hackaday readers read Hackaday, right?

Here’s the thing. The data came from statistics aggregator Statcounter. They report that desktop Linux use is about 3% of all desktop operating systems, which sounds about right. But an additional 4% are using ChromeOS, and ChromeOS is using Linux — in fact, based on Gentoo Linux and, before that, Ubuntu.

World’s Most Popular Linux?

But, as [The Register] points out, Linux sources don’t like to talk much about ChromeOS. You can make the case that it is like Android, which also leverages parts of Linux, but it really isn’t. Where do you draw the line?

As the post points out, Android isn’t really a full Linux system, at least, not without a lot of hacking, whereas a ChromeOS system uses the same system infrastructure that most Linux boxes use: the kernel, a proper libc, and so on. There are also other Unix splinters like FreeBSD, HURD, OpenBSD, and the like.

So what do you think? What defines a Linux system? Is it simply the kernel? Is it a set of “one true” utilities? What counts and what doesn’t? Will the year of the Linux desktop come, and no one will notice because of fragmentation? If you count Android, has it happened already? Is it a good thing or a bad thing that we don’t have more unification in the Linux/Unix world? Let us know what you think in the comments.

If you want to know more about ChromeOS, we broke a Chromebook open earlier. If you want to try FreeBSD, installing it isn’t as hard as it used to be.

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